Meet the Artist' is a new section of the website where we take some time out to have some Q&A with chosen artists and publish it here on the blog.

To introduce the section we spoke with new Hang-Up Contemporary affiliated artist Stanley Donwood about epiphanies, music and art.

1 Firstly, is Stanley Donwood your real name?

No. Is Ben Cotton your real name?

2) Who or what first inspired you to become an artist and when was this?

I ate a large number of hallucinogenic fungi at approximately the age of 21 and had a peculiar sort of epiphany. I realised, among many other things, that I really should try to use art as a tool to push forward a quite radical agenda, politically and socially.

I became convinced that this could be the only justification for being an artist, and for a long time - perhaps fifteen years - I worked in this way. However, in the last few years I have become extremely demoralised politically, and somewhat nihilistic in regard to the possibilities of positive social change. This may be simply age, or more probably a considered response to the continued decline of the civilisation in which I find myself.

3) Many people reading this will already know that you do the artwork for the Radiohead albums but can you tell us how this came about?

I've told so many lies about this that the truth, for what it was ever worth, is wreathed in the fogs of obscurity. When I think about what has befallen me in my adult life I am certain that the whole business is nothing but a series of accidents. If, when, how… so many forks in so many roads. The lies I told were for 'entertainment', as the actual sequence of events was quite banal.

I first met Radiohead, or 'On a Friday', as they were once known, when I and my friend Jim were hitch-hiking around the UK doing a fire-breathing show on the street; you know, a hat on the pavement for people to drop coins in, lots of apparent danger, very poor financial returns. We had both intended to be working as tree surgeons by this time but had failed to find employment. Anyway, we were supposed to be Radiohead's support act in an Oxford pub, but were eventually banned for health and safety reasons. Quite reasonably so. 


4) You have had large shows with galleries such as Lazarides who have been at the forefront of the street art movement but you are not a ‘street artist’ per se. Can you describe the style of your work to our readers?

I'm afraid that I don't have a style of work. Ideally I would, some time ago, have developed and maintained a recognisable and commercially popular 'style', but defects in my personality have unfortunately prevented this. I now realise that my lack of style is a serious problem in the 'art world', but unfortunately I have no way of doing anything about it. 

5) How big a part does politics play in the work that you produce?

As I mentioned earlier, politics once played a pivotal role in almost everything I produced. I used the exposure offered by Radiohead's position in public awareness to push forward an agenda that I considered to be worthwhile. I really couldn't see the point in producing work that was disconnected from the important issues facing human culture. I was also concerned about demonic infiltration from the world of dreams/nightmares and used the artwork for 'OK Computer' to counter what I saw as a malign influence from a demonic dimension. I am less concerned about that at the moment, and more concerned that our culture is heedlessly eating its own children.

6) Who are your inspirations in terms of other artists?

It's quite hard to say. In my mind the term 'inspiration' means something like 'ideas I would like to steal', so other artists who I am inspired by (have stolen ideas from) are Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Blake, Anna Maria Pacheco, Giovanni Piranesi, Jasper Johns and many, many more. I avoid going to galleries that show new work by emerging artists as I do not want to steal from people who can't afford it.

7) Same question again but musically?

An even harder question; perhaps even impossible. Whilst working in my studio near where I live I listen to anything from Radio 4 to old electro records, anything really. Often whilst I'm working on Radiohead projects over in Oxford I listen to the record as it is being put together. So different stages in the recording process have different effects on my own work. This is important, I think; a close awareness of what's happening musically can prevent artistic disconnects. Sometimes it's quite hard to find the visual equivalent for their music, but over time it slowly emerges.

8) Do you see a strong connection between music and art?

I think there is a strong connection between music and life. Visual art is a poor second to music, with written art coming third, I think. You can't dance to art.

9) The most recent Radiohead album ‘ The King Of Limbs’ was released as a Newspaper version. For those of us who have not seen it, can you tell us what that means exactly and why that came about?

I'm a bit bored with writing about this, so if you don't mind, I'll just copy and paste in something I wrote for an obscure Chinese magazine called, appropriately enough, 'Obscura':

"Well, I thought I'd better try painting with oils. I can't remember exactly why, but I used to like the smell of oil paint and turps whilst I was at art college, and I had a vague and rather old-fashioned notion that oil was what proper artists used.  This has probably more to do with romantic novels of the mid-twentieth century than anything else. Never mind, never mind.

Anyway, as usual I was hugely over-ambitious and tried to copy the work of Gerhard Richter, a fantastic painter. Of course, I failed terribly and miserably and I deserved to do nothing less for my appalling presumption. It was a very depressing period, as for weeks and months my work got steadily worse, until I wanted to burn my studio to the fucking ground, leave my stupid job and do something less totally pointless.

Perhaps luckily, I eventually worked through this dark valley and started to paint the woods and forests, and the odd creatures who dwelt inside. These scenes were starting to emerge from the music that Radiohead were making. Just at the right time. Maybe.

The Newspaper album was an idea that I developed concurrently with the oil painting. I was reading a newspaper one sunny summer morning, and after a while I left it on the bench where I was sitting. A few hours later I came back to the bench, and the newspaper had started to curl, get brittle, and go slightly yellow in the sunlight. This, to me, was very appealing; here was a medium that was like a speeded-up version of our own bodies, something that was mirroring the inevitable decay that comes with being alive.

At the same time, someone had donated a big stack of old 1960s counterculture newspapers to Radiohead's studio.  These were mostly copies of 'it' (International Times), a few copies of Oz and other strange publications. Because of their age, these newspapers had acquired a sort of value, an archivable quality that was surely far from the minds of the radicals who had produced them with the aim of documenting and advertising the day by day activities of revolutionaries."


10) We are big fans of the 'London Views' series that shows London landmarks being destroyed invarious natural disasters. Is this something that you foresee or what was the inspiration behind this body of work?

You don't have to be a prophet to see that the combination of rising sea levels and the planned 'Thames Gateway' development is fraught with terrible possibilities. Nor is any future forecasting needed to understand that the Thames Barrier is needed more frequently with each year that passes. I love London and I will be heartbroken to see it swamped by the floods. I'm horribly afraid that this future is now inevitable. I cannot understand why the problems of global warming are not addressed with the seriousness that they require by the smug, self-satisfied servants of capitalism that we use as politicians. Can they really be as stupid as they appear?

The inspiration, funnily enough, was none of this. I was in Cornwall in 2004 when there was a freak weather event, a flash flood that destroyed the village of Boscastle. I don't think this had anything whatsoever to do with global warming; it was just the latest in a series of disastrous floods that have afflicted Cornwall for all time. Anyway, I was there, watching, horrified, as the flood swept down the valley, pulling out trees by their roots, sweeping cars along like corks, smashing houses. And then I started to draw it. After some time had passed I ended up using lino-cutting, in a quasi-medieval style, to depict the floods of London.

As a coda, I should add that I've just finished an eighteen foot long version of Los Angeles being destroyed by fire, flood and meteor storm. Very much in the 'style' of 'London Views', but a lot more detailed, and bigger. It's called 'Lost Angeles'.

11) You're very concerned with the quality of the print making, can you tell us a bit about the different processes you use for your limited edition prints?

Principally I use screen printing, or seriography. You can do almost everything with screen printing, and it's a very good method to use if you're after bright colours. Although I often use relief printing for linocuts, woodcuts and letterpress; it's much more difficult to register different colours with this though, especially using Victorian presses. I've also done a series of prints entitled 'If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now' using photographic copperplate etching; this is an incredibly lengthy and complicated process. Nice though. And lately, for work that I'm reproducing from oil paintings, I've had to use both lithography and giclée printing, as the images I've been trying to print have been too complex with too many subtle textures for seriography.

12) Do you collect art yourself, if so what’s in your personal collection and what is your favourite piece in your collection?

No, I don't.

13)  What have you got coming up. Any exhibitions/projects planned for the rest of the year or 2012?

I'm going to stare out of the window at the rain until the spring. Then I'm going to do an exhibition in Los Angeles, I hope.  But I may have pissed off the gallery so much with my constant vacillation that they'll tell me to fuck off. I don't know. But if it works out, that will be the first showing of 'Lost Angeles'.


Available limited edition screen prints from Stanley Donwood


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